Friday fun: Sort of Shelfie!

Ella Johnston Dining RoomOf late there has been a trend for ‘shelfies’; things on people’s shelves that reveal a bit about them.

I’ll try and do a semi regular one for Ella’s Place as they are a bit of Friday fun and it’s always nice to have a bit of a nose.

This time I’m doing a ‘sort of shelfie’ with the items on my mainly blue and white dining room sideboard. Here’s a list of items from left to right.

1: Floor lamp made with Dannells kit and bluebell fabric from Spoonflower.
2: Pierre Luigi, a flamboyant Bitossi Rimini pigeon. You can read his story here.
3: PL is sat on Letters of Note and More Letters of Note, visit the Letters of Note Website for fab correspondence.
4: Books, including The Beechwood Airship Interviews by Dan Richards where you can see some of my sister Lucy Johnston’s photography
5: Vintage Habitat vase.
6: Adorable plain grey vase.
7: Our wedding picture (don’t we look young).
8: Old glass bottle with dried flowers, poppy heads and grasses.
9: Fabric covered tea-light box (you can see how I made it here)
10: Large lamp made with Dannells kit using Spoonflower fabric with base sprayed in matt blue paint.

The large square gorgeous thing on the wall is a beautiful Liberty silk scarf the lovely Dr B gave me on our 12th wedding anniversary that I had framed. I adore it.

At Home with Sarah Campbell

SarahCambellMemmIt’s rare to meet a true design icon, rarer still to be welcomed into one’s home. So it was a great pleasure to be invited to Sarah Campbell’s colourful and exciting abode.

You may think you don’t know Campbell but believe me you probably do. Working with her sister Susan Collier since the sixties, their vibrant creations have charmed design and illustration junkies like myself over decades, with collaborations with Liberty, Habitat, Jaeger and Conran. In fact when I was researching Sarah I was delighted to discover that I had some of the Liberty designs at home.

After her sister’s death in 2011, Sarah has been working independently and as a lover of her vibrant, painterly style and celebration of shape and colour I couldn’t wait to ask her about her practice and, if I’m being honest, get some tips of making my own work as exciting and effortlessly original as hers.
Sarah Campbell House ellasplace.co.uk Warm welcome
As you walk into Sarah’s fab mid-century modern home, you are immediately struck by colourful designs and a delicious array of textiles. It was heartening to see this – I was pleased it wasn’t a sterile space or simply too cool for school. In fact the exuberance and vibrancy of her illustrative work truly extends to her main room, with vivid soft furnishings and a bright green wall enhancing the foliage outside.

“Colour is the stuff of life,” she says. “When babies are very young we’re told they see colour as the contrast of black and white. But they very soon come to love real colours. It’s very important, colour is a magnet – people are drawn to it. Even in a home that’s all white or cream, I’d be hoping to see a bunch of red flowers or a merry postcard.”

There is an emotional connection too, she adds. “I went to a magnificent newly refurbished house recently where they had painted their kitchen wall a lovely turquoisey green. I couldn’t help but remark upon it. They told me that they’d had the colour in their previous home and just couldn’t live without it. I thought that was wonderful – a great anchor for a new ship if you like. It’s like they know they’re home.”

Sarah Campbell House ellasplace.co.ukAs well as the attractive combination of textures, shapes and hues in the house, I was also pleased to be greeted by a Matisse poster in the sitting room. Sarah’s work has always reminded me of this artist (one of my favourites) and I couldn’t help but ask her about this…

Sarah Campbell House ellasplace.co.uk“Well you can’t do better than Matisse as an inspiration. I think of him as a friend. There are lots of aspects of his work I love. He was brought up in a weavers’ town in northern France so he really understands textiles. They way he uses patterns in his paintings reflects his childhood surroundings. When I look at something like his painting The Pink Studio, I imagine him under the weaving machine observing all the different angles of the pattern.”

I think Sarah shares Matisse’s understanding of shape and composition, and while this looks free and playful, it is of course much more complex than that.

“You look at people like Matisse, Picasso, Dufy – they can all draw. You can’t reduce something to its simplest form unless you understand it. Drawing is the key. An artist’s essential line is a wonderful thing – it’s just lovely.”
Sarah Campbell House ellasplace.co.ukSarah Campbell House ellasplace.co.uk Mark making
I see a lightness of touch in Sarah’s work, the approach feels joyful and I get a strong sense of maker’s hand in her products. She credits this to being open to influences and enjoying the process of creating.

“My pieces start with painting on paper so it is a very tactile process. People at my workshops say happily that the work is hard but like playing and I say ‘well you can see why I’m so cheerful.’ Everything has influence. I have a very large storage cabinet in my brain. New work can be inspired by a new type of paper, or a simple set of pens or brushes that make me  think in a different way, so I can approach it with an inquisitive attitude.”

“When I do workshops I say, ‘we’re not all going to be old masters but we can all enjoy making marks’. Everyone can get something from this experience. People so often have their creative urges curtailed at one point or another. The words, ‘can’t’ and ‘I’m rubbish’ are often used when it comes to creative endeavours – these words are banned at my workshops. I encourage people to have fun and surprise themselves by their own capacities. ”

Sarah Campbell House ellasplace.co.uk Sarah Campbell House ellasplace.co.ukThe pleasure of creating
It is this sense of enjoyment and a child-like curiosity that Sarah believes keeps her work fresh and enables her to innovate.

“I have to earn a living, I need to send things out to clients for their approval but the sense of exploration has to be at the heart of work. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had a lifetime of painting patterns. I still enjoy that exploration.”

Sarah Campbell House ellasplace.co.ukAs a commercial artist, I imagine she must have been under pressure to ‘churn out what has worked’, so I ask her if she’s ever tempted to repeat past glories or stick to a particular formula that she knows to be popular.

“I have thought about revisiting some of our classics, and indeed have reprinted some of our most famous designs, like Cote d’Azure, as scarves and cushions and possible yardage – they stand the test of time and I still want them to be seen by a wider audience. The old designs certainly retain validity, no doubt. And, of course I do have my own style and way of working. I know what colour combinations and compositions work and naturally I want to make the best use of my experience. When I look back over the archive I can see there are interests that come and go, and motifs and ideas that reoccur, but I’d be a bit embarrassed to go back to the same thing again and again. The market changes, fashions and interests move on all the time, and production possibilities are developing constantly. The main impetus of work is looking and going forward, not back – after all, that’s the designer’s job.”

She continues… “Although it’s clear that building a brand successfully can be done by relying on a very succinct design look, Susan and I built our identity by creating lots and lots of different patterns for our many varied customers. Possibly commercial life might have been simpler if we’d only developed one or two signature motifs… but we enjoyed thinking of new things, couldn’t help it  – and I still do.”

Sarah Campbell House ellasplace.co.ukTrail blazers
In such a crowded and competitive arena, Campbell is still very active; collaborating with West Elm, producing collections with Michael Miller Fabrics plus producing a new range for homewares and ceramics, Viva, with Magpie. So what advice would she give to up and coming designers?

“There is still a huge appetite for colour and pattern. Wherever you come from, I believe drawing and the enjoyment of it is fundamental. Keep listening, keep looking, keep your observation skills honed and keep working at your designs. Don’t dismiss what you think of as the mistakes – they are useful. Keep records and date your work, sketches and all that way you know what you did, what you learnt and achieved during that period.”

As you can tell by that last comment, while Sarah is a warm, friendly, unpretentious person, she’s tough. Of course she is, she has been working in the design industry for more than 50 years and there is a strength and wisdom to her that I found very inspiring.

“I’m most proud of still being here doing it. It’s not easy. My sister and I  did, I suppose, break through a number of barriers but there were two of us and we brought our individual talents and qualities to the partnership. It’s great to still be working. I welcome new commissions and mainstream customers. I also love working with individuals on bespoke designs for curtains, furniture, clothes and walls. It continues to be great fun and very rewarding.”

See more of Campbell’s work at sarahcampbelldesigns.com

Real homes: my display shelves

DisplayShelf 2 At Ella’s Place I like to keep things real – especially when it comes to homes stuff. So here’s a peek at my display shelves unit, which lives in my lounge.
DisplayShelf 4 The shelf itself was picked up ages ago at a Habitat sale and I think it was about £100. We loved the bright red colour and its different sized square and rectangular cubby holes – great for both books and little bits and pieces. 
DisplayShelf 3

We’ve filled a lot of the cubby holes with mini art and design books, vintage plays and poetry collections, a complete edition of the 1974 Encyclopaedia Britannica, which we got from a neighbour.  We’ve placed various ceramics we’ve picked up over the years in the rest of the shelves. We’ve also used the unit as a home for some of our various characters from our menagerie – you can read about their back stories here and here
DisplayShelfI designed the fabric for the floor lamp to suite in with the shelving, everything else in the room is rather dark so both the unit and lighting provide a little pop of colour we need.  I made this light with a Dannells Floor Lamp Making Kit and got the fabric printed via Spoonflower.

Savvy small space solutions: creating a reading corner

As Dr B and I work from home in a small space we’ve had to be quite savvy when looking for storage and creative solutions. 
ReadingCorner_1As we both work from home, it’s important to me that work stays in the office rather than seep into every bit of the house. Although it’s a compact space, I was very keen to create a corner where one of us could step away from the desk and do a bit of reading and thinking while staying in the working environment.

As the room is small, I’ve stuck to a simple to a black and white colour-scheme with little pops of colour.
ReadingCorner 2The mini rocking chair is perfect for reading and is a great escape from an upright office seat. It’s also light and easy to move around so you never feel like it’s a big bit of immovable furniture taking up too much space.

The slim little table is from Habitat. It’s simple, stylish and didn’t cost much money but it’s tall enough to rest your coffee or book on, as well as this cool ceramic bowl also from Habitat.

I deliberately chose the table, chair and shelves (which you can see peeking in at the right) with long legs that you could see under, adding to the sense of space.

Multi-function objects are great for small rooms too; that A3 box isn’t just a brilliant way to store all my art stuff (it has improved my life immeasurably), it also makes a great little guitar stand for Dr B’s Epiphone Casino.
ReadingCorner 3A tall thin, floor lamp is ideal for a smaller room as it makes a real statement and gives out warm light without taking up too much space. I made my own with a Dannells Floor Lamp Making Kit and designed my own Memphis-inspired fabric especially for the lamp.

As with the other kits this was really easy to use and, what’s great about this is you can buy it with the lamp-fitting so there is no faffing. It provides fantastic light and a much needed splash of playful colour in an otherwise very restrained scheme.

The best cylinder vases to buy now

Cylinder vases LO RES

My home is full of vases and objects of all shapes, sizes and colours, some designer, some vintage finds and some that I’ve selected as props for photoshoots for the magazines I edit. Some of them are round, some oval, some brick-shaped – and some are cylindrical, like those I’ve picked out in the picture above.

There’s a beautiful simplicity about a cylindrical vase, whether they’re tall or short, narrow or wide, and the classic shape doesn’t detract from the decoration – which allows it to sing.

Here is my choice of some of the best in stores right now.

395-81007205-G80345274_M

A glass vase painted to evoke a beautiful fragility, this LSA Lace vase, in Linen design, is also available in blue and white. From Selfridges.

Lyngby_25cm_01

Classic white. An iconic design from 1936 by Lyngby Porcelain, available in a range of sizes from TwentyTwentyOne.

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I’ve recently been crafting my own ombre effect glassware for a magazine project. Here’s part of the inspiration: Pols Potten Gradient Gold Vase, from Heals.

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This monochrome vase mixes the traditional with a touch of mid-century retro chic – as you might expect from a collaboration between Royal Doulton and Hemingway Design. From Selfridges.

538-10010-40000059_MWaterford crystal gets a makeover with this Fleurology Tina design from celebrity florist Jeff Leatham. Available in a range of colours from Selfridges.elcombe-cut

The natural world and man-made combine in this hand-turned ash, copper and glass vase by Aelder. Available from Clippings.com.

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The Langdon blue and green vase from Habitat features daubs of chalky colour on a black and white background. Each vase is unique and decorated by hand.